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Golda’s Balcony
by William Gibson
Directed by Henry I. Schvey
New Jewish Theatre
October 6, 2016

Lavonne Byers Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Lavonne Byers
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish theatre is opening their 20th Anniversary Season with a one-woman show about a formidable 2oth Century figure, and starring a prominent and celebrated local St. Louis performer. It’s a show that has been a notable showcase for various well-known and celebrated actresses, and at NJT that’s also the case.  Centered by a first-rate performance and featuring strong production values, Golda’s Balcony serves a character study as well as a history lesson.

Lavonne Byers plays Meir during the time she was Prime Minister of Israel, specifically in 1973 at the time of the Yom Kippur War. Although that’s the starting point and the play keeps returning there to witness Meir’s negotiations with various officials in her own cabinet as well as other notable world leaders such as US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the play also features Meir telling the story of her life, jumping around a little bit in history but essentially in a mostly linear fashion. She talks about her childhood as an immigrant from Russia to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and her growing up in the USA and the shaping of the values, beliefs and ideals that would shape her life as an adult and as an activist in the movement to establish a Jewish state in the Middle East. Meir’s personal and political relationships, along with her role in the founding of the nation of Israel and her struggle between her loyalty to her cause and her family, are all issues that are brought up, along with various other issues in her life as an influential leader and her rise to the position of Prime Minister. Much of the story seems to hold close to established facts of what is known about Meir’s life, although there are some disputed elements, such as the role of nuclear weapons in the negotiation process during the Yom Kippur war. Mostly, it’s a nuanced portrait of a complex figure in world history, and it’s the performance that’s most crucial.

As Meir, this production has found an ideal portrayer in Byers, who is able to bring out the sense of strong leadership and passion for her cause that would characterize a powerful, influential woman such as Meir. The contradictions and dilemmas in her life are not glossed over, but Byers’ performance is engaging, bringing this woman’s life to the stage in a compelling, believable way. In everything to her stories about her childhood, her family life and her troubled marriage, and her various political dealings, Byers is convincing as Meir, displaying the dilemmas, compromises and controversies of a person so active on the world stage on a human scale, with determination, candor, and occasionally wit and humor.

Also compelling are the expertly crafted technical elements of the show. Peter and Margery Spack’s set is both literal and figurative at once, representing a detailed rendition of Meir’s office, but surmounted with the looming sculpture of a large rock that literally hangs over Meir’s head much of the time, seeming to represent the commitment Meir has made to uphold the convictions of the Israeli state, as referenced in the stories she tells. There is also excellent use of wall-filling projections to help illustrate Meir’s stories and the important figures in her life. The production also features excellent use of lighting, designed by Kimberly Klearman, to highlight the more emotional moments of the production, and clear, effective sound designed by Robin Weatherall. Costume Designer Michele Friedman Siler has outfitted Byers in an appropriately era-specific and professional suit, which Byers wears throughout the show.

New Jewish Theatre continues to produce first rate, thought-provoking productions in St. Louis. Their legacy of 20 years of excellence is well-reflected in their newest season opener. Golda’s Balcony is an ideal showcase for both this theatre company and its well-chosen lead performer. There’s still plenty of time to check it out.

Lavonne Byers Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Lavonne Byers
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Golda’s Balcony at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until October 30, 2016.

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